LOS ANGELES — A Justice Department policy that ties federal funding to immigration-based requirements hampers local law enforcement and threatens public safety, Contra Costa County's district attorney said during a recent interview.
"Public safety is enhanced when there is trust and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities that we serve," Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, signatory to an amicus brief filed in Los Angeles this week, said during an email interview with the Northern California Record. "As stated in the brief, when trust is missing, 'community policing breaks down and the entire community is harmed'. Policies that require communities to give priority to civil immigration over public safety, in order to preserve federal funding, will lead to a decrease in trust and cooperation and negatively affect the ability of local law enforcement agencies to keep the communities that we serve safe."
Becton was one of more than 30 prosecutors and police who signed an amicus brief filed in support of Los Angeles' challenge to the DOJ's policies against "sanctuary cities" that tie federal funding to immigration-related requirements, according to a press release issued Monday by the prosecutors' advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution. Other signatories include current and former prosecutors and law enforcement leaders, district attorneys, state attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, commonwealth attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs from 24 jurisdictions, according to the press release.
"These elected prosecutors and law enforcement officials came together in a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief supporting a federal lawsuit by the city of Los Angeles against the Justice Department," the press release said. "The suit challenges the Justice Department's decision to show preferential treatment in awarding grants from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – a crucial resource for community policing – to cities that pledge to assist with federal immigration enforcement."
The amicus brief was filed in Los Angeles' lawsuit, itself filed in September, challenging the DOJ's imposition of immigration-related conditions on federal funding. The Los Angeles lawsuit is one of dozens of civil rights challenges to the Trump administration's immigration enforcement orders.
Federal funding that Los Angeles and other cities receive, as administered by the DOJ, came under new requirements last year. One condition was compliance with a federal law requiring local governments not to prohibit or restrict communication between local government and federal immigration authorities.
The amicus brief argues that, contrary to a recent statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ's policy "undermines community policing efforts designed to build trust with immigrant populations," the press release said. "It draws on the firsthand experience of the brief's signatories and recounts recent incidents showing that immigrant communities are less willing to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement officers and prosecutors when they fear deportation."
A hearing in the case currently is scheduled for Feb. 20.
"The Case is proceeding through the court process," Becton said.
The amicus brief was co-authored by the Chicago law firm of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym and Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, according to the press release.
Becton said she hoped the Los Angeles case ultimately will bring about "a halt in attempts to force local law enforcement to engage in practices that decrease public safety."
Becton in September became the first African-American woman to be appointed district attorney in Contra Costa County. Her appointment followed the resignation of her predecessor Mark Peterson in June over a campaign funds misuse scandal that led to his no-contest plea to perjury. Becton is running to remain Contra Consta District Attorney in this year's election.
Prior to becoming district attorney, Becton was a Superior Court of Contra Costa County judge beginning in 1995 with her appointment by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. In March 2012, Becton received the California Women Lawyers' Rose Bird Memorial Award. She was re-elected in 2014 to six-year term on the Superior Court and retired from the court last year.